Campus & Community

Economist Duesenberry dies at 91

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James Stemble Duesenberry, an eminent economist who was an authority on monetary policy and a faculty member of Harvard University’s Department of Economics for more than half a century, recently passed away at his home in Cambridge at the age of 91.

Duesenberry came to Harvard in 1948 as assistant professor of economics and became associate professor in 1953. He received tenure in 1955, and became professor of economics.

An economic theorist who strove to affect policy and improve economic conditions, Duesenberry was a member of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors from 1966 to 1968, in Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration. From 1969 to 1974 he was chairman of the Board of Directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, and he led the bank during the construction of the First National Bank Building in downtown Boston.

“Jim Duesenberry was a very insightful man who thought deeply about problems in a way that was relatively unconstrained by the fashionable conditions of the day,” said Benjamin Friedman, William Joseph Maier Professor of Political Economy, who was a colleague of Duesenberry’s. “He thought that the purpose of economics was to speak to the way the economy behaves and what policy can do to improve economic performance.”

In 1969, Duesenberry was named William Joseph Maier Professor of Money and Banking. He was chair of the Department of Economics from 1972 to 1977, and led the department at a time when some called for greater intellectual diversity among the faculty. He retired in 1989, and became William Joseph Maier Professor of Money and Banking Emeritus.

Duesenberry’s first book, “Income Consumption and the Theory of Consumer Behavior” (Harvard University Press), was published in 1949. He is also the author of “Business Cycles and Economic Growth” (McGraw-Hill, 1957), “Money and Credit: Impact and Control” (Prentice-Hall, 1964), “Capital Needs in the Seventies” with Barry Bosworth and Andrew Carron (Brookings Institution, 1975), and “Money, Banking and Economy” with Thomas Mayer and Robert Z. Aliber (W.W. Norton, 1981).

Born in Princeton, W.Va., Duesenberry received his B.A. in 1939, his M.A. in 1941, and his Ph.D. in 1948, all in economics from the University of Michigan.

Duesenberry was a research fellow with the Social Science Research Council in 1941. During World War II, Duesenberry was a statistician in the Air Force, and reached the rank of captain. He was an instructor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1946, and in 1954, he was a Fullbright fellow at Cambridge University.

Duesenberry is survived by his son John of Brookline, Mass., and daughters Holly of Gouldsboro, Maine, and Peggy of Stirling, Scotland, as well as four grandchildren.